Dear High Park North Residents:
Our apologies for the time it has taken for us to get this update out to you. We had been working on this, and then along came COVID-19. Like you, we’ve been adjusting to this new normal in our everyday lives, and it took a while to be able to come back to High Park Community Alliance affairs.
Thank you to those who contacted us after HPCA announced reaching settlements with the developers (GWL and Minto). A few expressed frustration with the process and outcome. Others acknowledged that community involvement achieved reduced and better designs/plans. We share both sentiments.
What’s become clear is that by settling we achieved more for the community than would have been the case if we had pressed on at the OMB/LPAT after the City dropped out. Much needed support from the City was lost, and the process was conducted in a manner that was clearly unsympathetic to the views of local residents.
This was a hard decision for HPCA. We have been working on this since January 2017. We were warned it would be an uphill battle, but were told the City would need community support or the developers would get everything they sought.
One brave tenant took up the challenge. She assembled a core group of volunteers to join the cause and recruited a small army of others to deliver thousands of flyers, circulate petitions, organize resident meetings, meet with Councillors, raise money, hire legal counsel, draw up a constitution, incorporate, and stage annual general meetings.
What did all this achieve? Quite a lot at first. The City of Toronto Planning Department said it had a plan to curtail over-sized apartment infill proposals like this. HPCA was included in the development of an Area Character Study which put on paper the things that made this high rise neighbourhood special, and work so well as a stable community. With your letter writing help, City Council passed it as Official Plan Amendment #419. This was the legal blueprint for reining in GWL and Minto’s outrageous proposals at the OMB/LPAT.
Then things began to stack up in the developers’ favour. After they appealed to the OMB/LPAT, the new Ontario PC government rolled back changes to the Board, making it even easier to get big projects approved quickly. The OMB/LPAT then ruled that the City’s OPA #419 would not be accepted as a guiding plan for our neighbourhood. Instead, arguments for and against the seven proposed towers, and 1700 new units, would be heard based on vague existing bylaws.
The OMB/LPAT process is very expensive. A hearing is a battle of lawyers and experts costing hundreds of thousands of dollars, one reason deep-pocketed developers succeed there. Add that to “develop at full speed” changes made by Premier Ford and it was clear it was a process HPCA should try to avoid.
So, we used the money we raised from the community to get our lawyer and an urban designer to lay the groundwork for a bid for mediation. This is a much cheaper and shorter process that allows all parties to negotiate a compromise out of “court”. It allows the community to have a say in what development in their neighbourhood might look like.
The provincial government made accessing mediation harder too. Only one developer would sign on. The City flat out refused. Instead, the developers scaled back their plans somewhat and opened 2-way closed door talks exclusively with the City. HPCA was told it could only submit its concerns in writing and leave it to the City to take them into account. In late December 2019, we learned that settlements had been reached and that the City was dropping out of the OMB/LPAT challenge.
On your behalf, the Executive of the HPCA refused to do the same. Witnesses and a pro-bono expert had been readied to speak out for the community we all wanted to defend. Several individual tenants had also signed up to speak at the OMB/LPAT.
As we’ve reported, this changed for us in the week prior to the January 27th hearing. It appeared likely we would not be able to present our case and would be denied the satisfaction of making a principled stand. That meant a settlement agreement was the least awful of a set of poor options.
Major aspects of the settlement are confidential, but we can tell you that it will provide help to many residents during the construction period. In addition, Minto and GWL will cover the cost for a crosswalk study on Pacific Avenue, to support pedestrian safety with the increased density. We also have agreements with regard to Above Guideline Rent Increases from Minto and GWL pertaining to elevators, waste management facilities, and laundry rooms.
So, what’s next?
For the OMB/LPAT process: According to the LPAT Interim Order issued on Friday February 21st, the Minto and GWL proposals have been “approved in principle” (for Minto, a 33 storey tower, a 29 storey tower, and some townhouses, with a total of 720 new rental units; and for GWL a 36 storey tower, a 30 storey tower, and an 11 storey tower with a total of 744 new rental units). The Interim Order notes there is “considerable work” that needs to be done to satisfy the conditions in the City’s settlement agreement, prepare site plan applications, and draft zoning bylaw amendments. The parties indicated that about 6-8 months are needed to complete all this work. As a result, the LPAT is withholding its Final Order for now. A status update from the parties needs to be submitted in writing to the OMB/LPAT by October 30, 2020.
We have had many people reach out to ask us about the status of construction. Construction for these developments cannot begin before there is a Final Order issued by the OMB/LPAT. We hope to have some clarification after October 30th as to a timeframe. It does usually take some time after that for construction to begin. And that is in “normal” times. We have no idea right now how the pandemic might impact these developments. When we do have more information/clarification, we will share it with you.
What’s next for HPCA: We had organized a public meeting to include City representatives so they could present the plans they agreed to. HPCA’s lawyer was also to attend in order to answer questions about our settlement decision. City Councillor Gord Perks had confirmed his attendance. The City Planner, who we hoped would also attend, received advice from City Legal that she could not speak publicly until the matter has been finalized at the OMB/LPAT. As mentioned above, this could be towards the end of 2020.
Then came the announcement of the COVID-19 pandemic and all public meetings were cancelled. As a result, HPCA is postponing its 2020 AGM. When it is safe to do so, we will reschedule the public presentation.
A few people have asked what will become of the $6000 we raised in our December 2019 appeal for the OMB/LPAT fund. It will be used to cover the legal costs of attending the final settlement portion of the hearing, but also the expense of preparing witnesses and evidence for the cancelled portion. There will be further costs associated with the final written decision from the OMB, and with finalizing and administering the settlement. The totals aren’t yet known.
We will also (eventually) pay to host the 2020 AGM and have our lawyer attend. All expenditures will be detailed in the financial report presented at our Annual General Meeting, and posted on our website, as has been our practice every year.
As per the HPCA Constitution, a community meeting will be held to vote on dissolving HPCA once there is a final disposition on the Minto/111 Pacific Ave and GWL/35 High Park Ave development applications. Any funds left over will be donated to a local not for profit organization (to be voted on by the membership at the final HPCA meeting). This portion of our Constitution is posted online at: http://highparkcommunityalliance.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/HPCA-Constitution-May-30-2018.pdf
For that reason, we will not be processing refunds. While it’s possible to trace many of the donations (from the partial information on file), that would involve many hours for our unpaid volunteers. Most would also be subject to handling fees from services such as PayPal and GoFundMe. Fortunately, very few donors have raised the question of a refund.
Many of you have expressed appreciation for the work of the HPCA Executive. We continue to appreciate your support. It has been a long three years, and it has not been without results despite mounting obstacles.
We will be in touch as soon as possible about a rescheduled AGM date.
For now, please stay safe. Help flatten the curve by staying home as much as possible, practice physical distancing when going out, wash your hands often, and heed the directives given by Toronto’s, Ontario’s, and Canada’s Medical Officers of Health.
Elissa, Steve, Richard, and Albert – HPCA Executive
A resident of High Park North sent along the following email they had received from an organization called Peaceful Parks. We thought our readers might be interested in the information and we encourage you to send written feedback to the Government of Ontario by April 20th.
Subject: Fwd: Lack of Green Space in New Developments
We hope this email finds everyone in good health and good spirits. If you have experienced COVID-19, we wish you a fast recovery and long health, and if someone you care about has succumb to the virus we send you many hugs and share in your sadness.
If you are at home feeling a little down, we thought you might be interested in responding to the following public notice posted on the Ontario Environmental Bill of Rights Registry. In this pandemic, the Ford govt. is still posting notices and destroying the environment. The following notice is somewhat unusual but very important if you live in a city.
We have until April 20 to comment on this proposal:
EBR # 019/1406 https://ero.ontario.ca/notice/019-1406
“Proposed regulatory matters pertaining to community benefits authority under the Planning Act, the Development Charges Act, and the Building Code Act”
Prior to the Ford govt., ever new development was provincially required to allocate 20% of any development lot to green space (Community Benefit). This could be landscaped areas along the street or open green space for residents. The Ford govt. reduced this requirement to only 5% green space allowing developers to squeeze higher density in smaller lots making the building more profitable.
Municipalities are allowed to exchange the requirement for green space for money – called ‘cash-in-lieu’. The ‘cash-in-lieu’ money still needs to be applied to expand green space within the city. It is often used to purchase land to expand existing parks. This ensured that green space was not being depleted with new development which often removes existing trees and green space.
With this proposal, the Ford govt. is now allowing municipalities to use the cash-in-lieu money for any community benefit defined by the city. It no longer needs to apply to green space preservation.
Why is this important?
*Green space is universally acknowledged as an vital component to human and mental health and every development should carry their fair share of the load to ensure urban environments remain green.
*The absence of canopy trees creates a desert effect increasing heat and accelerating wind speeds. There is no relief for residents when adequate green space is bypassed and disastrous when this practice accumulates across an entire district.
*The practice of cash-in-lieu has only contributed to the desertification of downtown cores.
*Canopy trees need open spaces. Without these dedicated spaces evenly distributed throughout the urban core, cities cannot grow trees. This negatively impacts residents and local wildlife.
*Increasingly urban land and subsequent housing is being controlled by corporations and their profits rather than individuals looking to create healthy communities. It remains the responsibility of government to ensure balance and green space is preserved.
*Other community benefits needing funding such as affordable housing are big issues that need a dedicated government response rather than a ‘nickle and dime’ approach by pirating other areas of urban development.
Please find a link to a recent news story from the CBC dated Feb. 14 2020 that looks at Urban Design and its impact of mental health.
I have also attached two photographs of two developments with and without green space.
Thank You and Stay Safe
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